Human relationships are terribly complicated. There will always be conflict, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings at one point or another. This can be even more true when a person lives with a mental illness. This doesn’t mean that people who live with mental illness are incapable of loving, being loved, or being in a relationship, but it makes it more difficult when a person lives with one.
Some obstacles couples may encounter if one has a mental illness are:
- Being pushed away
- More arguments
- Troubles with finances (especially when manic)
- Hurtful words/actions
- Additional stress
As a person who lives with a mental illness, I have experienced this first-hand. I have been in relationship for about five years now with a man who I am to marry this fall. I will definitely be the first to say that it hasn’t been easy. I have a habit of pushing him away (not physically) during my rough times which can end up in an argument, making the situation even worse. I don’t exactly know why I push him away, but I believe it has to do with the discomfort I am feeling within during that time. I want him around and for him to comfort me, but at the same time, I don’t. It’s an interesting feeling and it definitely confuses and frustrates my fiance when I do this. I often find that I hurt his feelings when I do this as well. Sometimes he is left feeling helpless because nothing can soothe me or make it better. I would say about 75% of our arguments or disagreements are due to my mood swings and my condition. Another obstacle we have encountered is that I can become dependent on him. Some days I won’t feel up to doing anything due to my mood so he may have to take care of me by making food, running some of my errands, etc. I feel bad when this happens because I don’t want him to start feeling resentful or annoyed by me. I also feel bad because it appears that I am just lazy or a mooch and I don’t want him or anyone to think that of me either. I often feel like a huge burden at times and I would do anything to feel independent. In addition, there are also times where I have said some extremely hurtful things to him. This tends to happen most when I’m feeling irritable or depressed. When this occurs, sometimes the best thing to do is to just be alone and distant oneself from the situation because it can turn into an unpleasant argument resulting in hurt feelings.
Relationship issues are common with bipolar disorder. It seems it’s one of the most difficult aspects about having this disorder because the moods can greatly affect the partner too. Not every person you meet is able to handle these obstacles because it can be overwhelming and stressful for the other person involved. It definitely takes someone who is open-minded, patient, and is willing to learn. The partner must also know where to draw the line and not get too involved to the point that they are dragged down as well. In addition, there is only so much a partner can do for their loved one with bipolar. It is important for them to know when it’s something they can or should help with and when it requires a professionals help. If a situation ever gets too out of hand, it is advised and recommended that a professional is called.
Tips for couples:
- Attend couples counseling and psychiatric visits together – Though not fun, couples counseling can be a great outlet because it gives you both an opportunity to grow and learn together which will ultimately strengthen your relationship. He/She can give you tips on how to handle and work through mental illness. It can be beneficial for spouses or mates of a bipolar individual to have their own therapist or outlet if needed. Both should consider attending appointments to the psychiatrist to gain a better understanding of what is going on and what the plan is. The partner of a person with bipolar should develop a relationship with the psychiatrist as well.
- Educate your partner about the illness and what to expect, how to help, etc –
The internet and books can be a real helpful tool. One of my favorites is Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder. There are many resources that can be found to help a loved one with bipolar disorder if you know where to look. You can also check out the Helpful Links page which offers more resources as well.
- Talk – I can’t stress how important it is to communicate with your partner. It is important to communicate your needs because your partner cannot read your mind and won’t know what to do unless you ask. It’s also important to be up front and honest as well.
- Have a plan – It is a good idea to have a plan set in place for when things go wrong to avoid any arguments and to prevent anything worse from occurring or escalating. It may take some time to figure out what types of things work that will resolve a certain situation. Sometimes the same plan won’t work every time which is important to keep in mind as well. Always have the psychiatrist’s or therapist’s number close by, just in case.